Business events are likely going to play a critical role in helping industries successfully deal with the impact of COVID-19 – much like the recent Utility CEO Forum: Central Africa has.

Organised by Clarion Events Africa, this two-day event is by invitation only, and part of five-part series that sees it travelling to different regions around Africa. It brings together utility CEOs and executives from around the continent for in-depth, confidential discussions with expert and developmental partners – which this year have taken place online. The aim is to support them in their daily responsibilities as well as long-term challenges.

“Even before COVID-19 changed the way we work and do business, most utility CEOs expressed the need to unpack their biggest challenge – financial sustainability.”

The event manager Nomvuyo Tena says, “Even before COVID-19 changed the way we work and do business, most utility CEOs expressed the need to unpack their biggest challenge – financial sustainability. The Utility CEO Forum for the Central African region had key objectives, with the first day being focused on understanding how utility executives navigate challenges. Utility CEOs looked at the role cost reflective tariffs play in the financial sustainability of a utility when balancing electricity access, political interests, regulator influence and currency depreciation. CEOs also unpacked who would be the most important stakeholder in achieving financial sustainability.”

Tena continues, “The key objective of the second day was to provide utility CEOs with practical and realistic solutions. Utility CEOs and partners discussed how they could start optimising functionality in utilities and what profitability looks like to them. Utility CEOs were then afforded the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with key expert partners to further unpack solutions offered and to create a roadmap for how to achieve financial sustainability.”

“In a time where utilities around the world are facing common challenges of reduced revenues and new working practices, whilst continuing to supply electricity, water and gas to the community, these virtual events are a great opportunity to meet, share experiences and generally just stay connected.”

Several leading African power utilities were present, including DRC’s SNEL, Cameroon’s SONATREL and Congo Brazzaville’s SNE, while expert partners included Oracle Utilities, Conlog, Nyamezela and Eaton. Also providing expert guidance were the Forum’s developmental partners, the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF), African Development Bank (AfDB) and Union of Producers, Transporters and Distributors of Electric Power in Africa (APUA).

Mike Ballard, VP Industry Strategy at Oracle Utilities, says, “Oracle had the honour of joining the Central African Utility CEO Forum. In a time where utilities around the world are facing common challenges of reduced revenues and new working practices, whilst continuing to supply electricity, water and gas to the community, these virtual events are a great opportunity to meet, share experiences and generally just stay connected. I have found these virtual sessions have encouraged more focused and concise contributions as time is limited and with the lack of need for travel, we can actually increase the frequency and effectiveness of these meetings throughout 2020 and beyond.

“As we all get better at virtual meetings, I believe these will become an enduring format for our industry. Perhaps an unforeseen silver lining of these travel restrictions will be an even better-connected industry across the African continent in the future.”